The 2014 Stratford Festival: The Plays, part 1

In my last post I outlined some of the fun adventures I had at the Stratford Festival this year. Today I'm going to take a closer look at four of the Shakespeare productions I saw, starting with King Lear, starring Colm Feore. 

I am a very technically-focused and analytical theatre-goer, so I very rarely lose myself entirely in a play. This doesn't diminish my enjoyment (in fact, I think it enhances it) but it does mean I am rarely moved to tears by what I see on stage. And I'm not going to go so far as to say Feore's Lear made me cry, but there was definitely something in the air that made my eyes a bit itchy.

If I am slow to cry, I am quick to laugh, especially when an actor finds humor in a line or situation that I otherwise would never have considered humorous. The cast of King John, especially Graham Abbey's wry and swaggering Bastard, managed to unearth every latent laugh in what, on the surface anyways, appears to be a somewhat dour history play. I enjoyed myself tremendously, much more than I had anticipated. 

The joy of going to a repertory company like the Stratford Festival for numerous years is that you see each actor in numerous different roles, and become familiar with different facets of their talent and stage presence. One of things that has always enamored Geraint Wyn Davies to me is his propensity to utilize his native Welsh accent. (As a proud, if somewhat diluted 1/32nd Welsh patriot, I am particularly susceptible to Welsh accents.) I hasten to point out that Mr. Wyn Davies's excellent Antony showed few signs of hailing from across the Severn... but I kind of wish he had. 

Director Chris Abraham's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream could have been expressly designed to push every single button possessed by Shakespearean purists. It plays with the text, adding lines to establish a framing device setting the play as an entertainment put on to celebrate the wedding of a gay couple. Lysander is played by a woman and as a woman, making Hermia's father's objection to his daughter's marriage a comment on marriage equality. Titania is played as a woman, but by one of two rather muscular men.

There are cell phones, pop songs, food fights, sight gags, and an on-stage pond that numerous people fall into. It's cluttered and overwhelming and OH MY GOODNESS IT IS SO MUCH FUN. I have never been a particular fan of A Midsummer Night's Dream, apart from the Pyramus and Thisbe bit, but this production instantly won a place in my heart. It is so full of joy, so full of fun, and is such an open celebration of love that, appropriately enough, I fell in love with it.

If you want "traditional" Shakespeare (whatever that might be), this is probably not the production for you. But if you want A LOT OF PURE, UNADULTERATED FUN wrapped up in a Shakespeare-shaped package, I can't think of a better thing to do than to see this show. 


Is that enough gushing for now? Check back on Friday when I'll take a look at some of the non-Shakespearean productions. Also, take a look at my other Stratford Festival comics